By Yereth Rosen
Alaska Beacon 

Murkowski, Peltola wait for final count, but both appear headed to re-election


November 16, 2022

Alaskans may have decided to re-elect Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Rep. Mary Peltola to Congress, but the final outcome will not be known until the last ballots are tallied next week and, in one or both races, ranked-choice voting is factored into the decision.

Murkowski, a Republican who voted to impeach former President Donald Trump, has been the target of ire from Trump and from hard-liner conservatives. She trailed conservative Republican challenger Kelly Tshibaka by a small margin, 91,205 to 94,138, as of Monday (42.84% to 44.22%).

But the 20-year incumbent was narrowing the gap as more absentee and early votes are counted and is in position to surpass Tshibaka when the ranked-choice tabulation is expected to move many or most of Democrat Pat Chesbro’s votes to Murkowski. Chesbro had 20.265 (9.5%) of the votes in the preliminary count after the Nov. 8 election, with observers expecting that many of those voters had selected Murkowski as their second choice after Chesbro is eliminated from the count.

In the House, Democrat Peltola, who won an August special election to fill out the remainder of the late Don Young’s term to become the first Alaska Native to serve in Congress, led Republican opponents Sarah Palin and Nick Begich in the vote count as of Monday, with 47.26% for Peltola to 26.6% for Palin, 24.2% for Begich and 1.7% for Libertarian Chris Bye.

Wrangell voters went for Palin and Tshibaka.

As of Monday, the Alaska Division of Elections still had at least 35,000 absentee, mail-in, early and questioned ballots to count, adding to the almost 218,000 ballots already tallied. The division plans to release an updated count this week, with final results Nov. 23.

Though Peltola could reach the 50% threshold to win the election outright if she takes a large majority of those remaining ballots, it’s more likely the election will be decided by the ranked-choice calculation based on voters’ second choices. Peltola would win if only a small percentage of third-place finisher Palin’s voters picked her as their second choice, pushing her above 50%.

The ranked-choice voting system has made it an unusual race, Begich said on election day. “This is the wildest election in Alaska state history. If anyone says they expected this election to go as it went, they’d be lying to you,” he said.

Former governor and Republican vice presidential candidate Palin, who lost to Peltola in the August special election, continued her criticism of the ranked-choice system on election day. It is “convoluted and complicated,” she said.

“Get rid of ranked-choice voting. It should be one man, one vote,” Palin said.

Despite the wait for final results, Murkowski said she felt good about her re-election prospects.

She was also optimistic about what she said is a positive example that Alaska, with its new ranked-choice voting system and its history of cross-party coalitions, is setting for the nation.

“I hope that others are looking at what Alaska has just gone through, what we’re finishing up now, with a recognition that things do not have to be so polarized,” said the senator, who supported Peltola, a longtime friend and ally. “I’m hoping that Alaska once again opens the eyes of people around the country about, perhaps, a better process.”

The Alaska Beacon is an independent, donor-funded news organization.


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